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Gender filter stirs emotions for some trans people

Hit a button, and you're "transformed" into a woman. The beard disappears. The face and jaw smooth out. The hair floats jauntily around the shoulders.

The gender-bending selfies accompanied by flip or sarcastic comments are flooding social feeds since Snapchat introduced a filter this month allowing users to swap gender appearances with the tap of a finger.

But for many people who have longed for a button that would change them in real life, the portrait parade isn't a game.

"It can be really hard for someone who's struggled with these types of feelings and emotions to look at this and feel like they're being mocked," says Bailey Coffman, a 31-year-old transgender woman from New York.

She and others, though, do see possibility in the pastime.

Some argue that the filter, which Snapchat calls a "lens," could be a therapeutic tool that leads to self-discovery and even helps ease the transition of people struggling with gender identity once they see who they could become.

Jessie Daniels, a City University of New York professor and an expert in digital sociology, says that for people unfamiliar with the concept of gender as fluid — not innate and not binary; that is, not strictly male or female — such filters can be both radical and transformative.

"I think also in terms of public education, you know, for the general public who maybe isn't conversant in trans issues it sort of makes them stop and think about how fluid gender might be or gender expression might be," she said.

That could be meaningful for youths reckoning with gender identity or, just for putting the notion of gender fluidity on youngsters' radar.

A survey last year by Common Sense Media found that 44 per cent of teenagers use Snapchat as their primary social app.

Snapchat's maker, Snap Inc., which has drawn criticism for a Bob Marley filter some likened to blackface and another that overlaid stereotypically Asian features on users' photos, commented about its filter in an emailed statement.

"We understand that identity is deeply personal," the company said. "As we have and continue to explore the possibilities of this technology, our Lens design team is working ... to ensure that on the whole these Lenses are diverse and inclusive by providing a wide range of transformative effects."

Coffman says while she doesn't believe Snapchat is in the wrong, she hopes that they one day might add more filters that represent a greater spectrum of gender.

"It's taken me a lot of time to get to this point," Coffman says. "I just wish that that would be acknowledged in Snapchat's filter and that journey would be acknowledged in this discussion."

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Some argue that the filter, which Snapchat calls a "lens," could be a therapeutic tool that leads to self-discovery. Source: Associated Press